Volunteering is in his genes

David Watson-Hallowell is West Milford's Volunteer of the Year

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  • David Watson-Hallowell was named volunteer of the year by the township council.

“I’m really honored to be in service and it is a very important part of my life. To be recognized for that really means a lot to me. My father would be proud.”
David Watson-Hallowell, West Milford's volunteer of the year for 2013

“I really do love the town. It’s a beautiful place and the people are wonderful. I believe that people in the community can make a big, big difference,” David Watson-Hallowell said. And he, for one, has been doing just that.

Selected by the West Milford town council as the 2013 Volunteer of the Year, Watson-Hallowell comes from a family of dedicated volunteers, and 27 years ago he married Wendy, a like-minded woman.

When the Watson-Hallowells decided to move from North Caldwell, they looked around to find a parkland location to call home. They found everything they wanted in West Milford. Taken by the beauty of the Surprise Lake area, they moved into town 17 years ago.

Watson-Hallowell, 57, was raised in Webster, N.Y. He attended Wagner College on Staten Island and received his Master of Arts in psychology from The Graduate Faculty in New York City.

Watson-Hallowell is a senior project leader with the Rensselaerville Institute whose clients include the New York City Department of Health, Human Resources and Administration, the United Kingdom Department of Health and the National Association of Developmental Disabilities Planning Councils, to name a few.

He also works with grant makers and those they fund to track the desired results of the grants.

“What they are hoping to buy with their funding is results – not just the program,” he said.

He’s led training programs throughout the United States and in the United Kingdom and currently leads the Real Time Community Change efforts in rural towns across Appalachia in Florida and Ohio. His experience is in presenting, training and building core capacity for staff members to increase their effectiveness.

“We work to find community 'spark plugs.' We identify these folks and ask them to come up with a project that within six months will show results in improving their communities.”

The right spark plugs, he said, make things happen and gave the example of a woman in North Carolina who fought obesity in her community by developing a Zumba and diet program. Within six months 362 women in the town lost a total of 3,000 pounds.

West Milford’s own

It appears that Watson-Hallowell is a prime example of a spark plug. He served for several years on the Environmental Commission, was a board member and treasurer for Ample Harvest and is currently a board member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Ringwood Farmer’s Market.

In 2007, Wendy and David Watson-Hallowell co-founded Sustainable West Milford (SWM) which now consists of 11 board members.

“Overall, SWM is an opportunity for members who want to make a difference to realize their vision and to provide support that leads to a more sustainable community,” he said.

SWM has benefited the town by getting people involved, supporting and encouraging those who don’t want to sit back and hope “someone else will do it.” It has introduced a wide variety of programs since its inception.

The programs include:

SWM Canning Club – An opportunity for the community to learn how to preserve food by canning, freezing and drying produce, reviving a somewhat lost art.

West Milford Organic Community Garden and Ample Harvest - Located at Apple Acres on Union Valley Road, the 35 plot section of land is fully rented for this growing season. Community gardeners, as well as local gardeners, often contribute bumper crops to food pantries through the Ample Harvest program.

Native Medicinal Garden - A group of 20 volunteers tend to this beautiful and productive garden located on the Warwick Turnpike.

Time Bank of West Milford - The opportunity to earn credits for whatever service you can provide to be redeemed with other members. “I earned credits giving people rides to town and giving guided hikes,” Watson-Hallowell said. He spent his credits on home repairs, saving money and making friends in the process.

West Milford Cash Mob –Last year 14 local stores were “mobbed” much to their delight. A group assembles and the mob is led to the designated business of the day. The business gets a financial boost and the group usually celebrates making a difference by enjoying lunch together.

Farmer’s Market - This is Watson-Hallowell’s dream project. It will run at the West Milford Presbyterian Church grounds from the first week in June through October and this year there will be twice the produce available. Food stamp recipients may bring their electronic debit cards and receive “market bucks” to spend at the market.

Making a difference

“I do enjoy being able to make a contribution to what is important to me,” Watson-Hallowell said, and added that working from home gives him more time to be able to do so. “It’s all good and you get a lot of energy out of it,” he said.

Kind of like a spark plug.

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West Milford, NJ